Someone call Guy Fieri — this B.C. diner serves Canadian and Chinese classics in a lumber yard

Jimmy Mah greets customers at the cafe in August 2019. (Matt Meuse/CBC - image credit)
Jimmy Mah greets customers at the cafe in August 2019. (Matt Meuse/CBC - image credit)

"Our house is your house."  

That's the motto of Northern Cafe, which was recently named the top place to eat in Canada by review site Yelp.

The café, which sits on the banks of the Fraser River near the Knight Street Bridge in south Vancouver, is tucked away on top of a hardware store in the middle of a lumber yard.

A narrow staircase can be found at 1640 East Kent Ave. South that customers have been climbing for over 60 years so they can plop into red vinyl booths and dig into classic diner eats.

Matt Meuse/CBC
Matt Meuse/CBC

The diner opened in 1949 to feed workers in the area. Jimmy Mah and his wife Connie took over the business in 2008.

The Mahs serve diner favourites like pancakes and burgers, as well as Asian cuisine including homemade wontons and barbecue pork.

"I love what I do," Mah says. "When I picked up this old diner ... there was no business at all."

The café is truly a family affair.

Son Raymond Mah worked as a chef in Vancouver for nearly two decades before coming over to help his parents. His brother Richard quit a digital marketing job in Japan to join the family business.

"We ain't about being fancy, it's all about no flair," Richard said, as a Little Richard song plays in the background. "We just want to serve good quality food, comfort food."

"It's all about giving love to the community and to all the guests that come here."

The Mahs aren't the only family connection to the café.

Matt Meuse/CBC
Matt Meuse/CBC

The Thomas family opened Northern Building Supply over 60 years ago and the café was the brainchild of founder Bert Thomas, who wanted somewhere for his workers to eat near his lumber yard.

"He started it so they wouldn't leave all day," Bert's son John Thomas told CBC in 2019.

Nowadays, people come to the lumber yard to find food.

Raymond says it's flattering that many people, including travellers from around the world, seek out his family's café.

"Walking down here, you're not going to try and find a restaurant," he says.

It's even more flattering that people continue to leave positive online reviews.

"Being a family-owned, small, little restaurant here in the middle of nowhere, it definitely means a lot to be ranked number one in Canada."